Will your kitten be able to cope with losing an eye? - Dr. Marty Becker

Will your kitten be able to cope with losing an eye?

Wednesday, Dec 3rd, 2014 | By Dr. Marty Becker

Many pet owners hate the idea of removing a pet’s eye, even if it will relieve pain and improve quality of life. What does the kitten think about it, and how will he or she cope? That’s what a reader asked:

Q: The kitten I adopted came with a bad eye infection. My veterinarian says it would be best to remove the eye, but I feel terrible doing that to him. Won’t he have problems getting around?

A: When we humans contemplate losing our eyesight, we think of all the terrible ways it would affect us: We couldn’t drive or read or look at funny cat videos on Facebook. But a cat’s visual acuity is much less than that of humans to begin with, and cats rely much less on their eyesight than we do, surprising as that may seem.

Veterinarians and cat owners are often astounded by the abilities of blind cats, especially those who lose their eyesight early in life. Even if they lack both eyes, we’ve seen them chase toys down the hall, jump up on kitchen counters, catch bugs and perform acrobatic feats. They are fearless explorers.

Cats who lose their vision in one or both eyes quickly adapt, learning to rely on their senses of sound and smell, as well as the tactile cues provided by their whiskers. Cats are also very good at sensing touch and vibrations, as well as changes in air movement. And a kitten’s brain is very “plastic,” meaning that he can still forge new neural pathways that allow him to be just as able with uniocular vision or to make greater use of other senses to compensate for a complete loss of vision.

Adult cats may not have the same brain plasticity, but they can also adjust well. If they lose an eye to trauma or glaucoma, you may see that their balance is as good as ever, but they may take a little longer than a kitten might to adjust to their new condition.

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com!

Read more, including how to get pets used to a baby who’s on the way, in this week’s Pet Connection!